special article

Agra and After

THE INDO-PAK summit had all the nail-biting thrill of an onedayer. Great expectations ran parallel to high apprehensions in both countries. People spent most of their time before their TV sets. The outcome, however, came as a disappointment. Nevertheless, the summit confirmed that a large constituency for peace has emerged on both sides of the subcontinental divide. The aspirations for peace and normalisation were indeed running quite high. In this sense, the summit did mark a major step forward in the relations between two hostile neighbours.

In fact, the urge for peace was so strong that the establishments on both sides behaved as if it would overwhelm and stampede them into some kind of forced peace. Spoilers and dirty-tricks departments on both sides were working overtime to scuttle a successful outcome of the summit. Both sides ended up trying to score points over each other and mutually trading charges. After having come so near to a durable framework for advancing the peace process, they backed off, reiterating their stated positions on basic differences.

The outcome was variously described by the media as failure, collapse, derailment and so on. Of course, absence of a declaration -- and not even a joint statement -- points to not a successful outcome. Yet, the summit may not be a total failure and the outcome is not altogether negative. For one thing, both sides were hard put to explain why the summit was inconclusive and have indicated that the talks would continue. Thus it marks the resumption of the dialogue process however meandering it may be in the days to come. The Indian side has confirmed that Vajpayee’s acceptance of the invitation to visit to Pakistan for another summit stands even though no firm timeframe has been announced. A structured framework for dialogue has been announced on nine areas. Four -- Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, terrorism and drug trafficking -- to be discussed at the political level by foreign ministers, and five others -- economic and commercial cooperation, Siachen, Wullar Barrage, Sir Creek, and promotion of friendly exchanges at various levels -- by officials and experts. To that extent there is some forward movement. But then, the two sides had also agreed for a dialogue through eight working groups on these areas four years back. And the present announcement – coming without a timeframe – appears to be merely a continuation of that process with the only difference that four issues, including Kashmir and terrorism, would now be elevated to the political level. This more or less meets India’s insistence on ‘composite dialogue’. Yet, why did the summit come unstuck?

As a columnist put it, “On the fundamental issue of how to settle the Kashmir dispute, the two sides remain far apart – that is only to be expected – but are predisposed to following incompatible strategies for addressing it.” A mutually accepted formulation on Kashmir, at least on the negotiating approach, in spite of continuing basic differences, concretised in a joint declaration, would have marked a successful outcome of the summit and laid a durable basis for further advancing the peace process. In the absence of that now things are back to a considerable degree of uncertainty.

What exactly transpired at Agra

ACCORDING TO media reports, India almost agreed to sign the draft of the joint declaration. It came closer to accepting the centrality of Kashmir issue. But then it was scuttled. There was no consensus on this in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). Accusing fingers have been pointed at Advani.

In fact, it was the Indian side which took the lead in vitiating the summit atmosphere through media manipulation. Sushma Swaraj, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, appeared out of nowhere and through an out-of-turn press briefing, which is clearly violative of the norms and spirit of the summit, tried to create an impression that every subject other than Kashmir was discussed in the first two meetings between Vajpayee and Musharraf. This naturally caused a furore in Pakistan. In what appeared like inspired media leaks, it was made public that Vajpayee called her for little bit of chastising. If she had really caused a faux pas, or worked at cross purposes to sabotage the summit on behalf of Advani and other hardliners in the bureaucracy, why she is still part of the Union Council of Ministers? Why she has not been thrown out? Jaswant Singh, in his post-summit media briefing, said that General Musharraf’s discussion with editors in a breakfast meeting that was telecast by PTV queered the pitch. This silly reason is being held out as the cause for the hardening of India’s attitude. But that was only a response to the provocation by Sushma Swaraj. Moreover, it now turns out that far from PTV telecasting it live, it was actually the Star TV which first went to town with Musharraf’s breakfast chat with Indian editors, or the media luminaries, as the General calls them. If the CCS had rejected the final draft, on what basis did it do so? The Indian side never clarified this. The all-party meet, convened by Vajpayee after the summit, should have demanded a White Paper on that and Sushma’s expulsion from the Union Council of Ministers. Unfortunately, they mutely accepted the sanitised version put out by Vajpayee and remained content with blaming the government for mishandling the media and doing inadequate groundwork etc. It is quite possible that hardliners and officials on both sides were keen on oneupmanship but what happened to the man who had this time donned the mask of a statesman? Was it yet another instance of the division of labour between ‘hardliner’ Advani and ‘moderate’ Vajpayee? Or, were there substantial, and unbridgeable, differences? The clarification by the two foreign secretaries at their respective press meets immediately after the summit offered some idea about the substantial differences.

The crux of the differences

THE TALKS over the 9-point draft declaration at the summit came unstuck over differences on Kashmir. Pakistan, as it has always been saying, insisted on a formulation that Kashmir is the core issue. India almost agreed to recognise the centrality of Kashmir but insisted on a mention of its ‘core concern’ -- crossborder terrorism. India also wanted preclusion of third-party mediation – adherence to the Shimla Pact and the Lahore Declaration – against which the Pakistani side demanded recognition that Kashmir’s fate would be decided by Kashmiris, the self-determination clause. This was rejected by the Indian negotiators. The Pakistanis then proposed a draft with a limited formulation just recognising the centrality of Kashmir issue without going into other complexities. The CCS rejected that, insisting on inclusion of crossborder terrorism. Thus, the draft fell through, and the summit ended without a declaration. Musharraf and his team, who extended their stay and cancelled their other programmes for putting in some extra bargaining, left disappointed, and at every available opportunity, blamed “forces inimical to peace” for sabotaging the summit.

When Pakistan had all along been insisting, before the summit, on India recognising Kashmir as the core issue, India countered it by insisting on composite dialogue. Now, with Pakistan agreeing upon a framework of dialogue on nine issues, it has more or less implicitly agreed to India’s position. All that it expected was some formal recognition that Kashmir was the main agenda. In fact, by adopting this negotiating stance Pakistan has only begun with a modest bargaining position. They obviously had their domestic compulsions. Other than this, there seems to be no other strategic dimension involved in this. It amounted to just stating the obvious and it was mulish intransigence on the part of India to go on denying it. The Indian side – or, for that matter, any of the hawks in India -- could never come up with any convincing explanation on how India’s strategic interests – or, even negotiating strategy – would be hampered by a formal recognition of the centrality of the Kashmir issue. The Pakistanis did not say that they would not discuss other issues unless and until the Kashmir issue was discussed and settled. Nor did they make, at least at this stage, any overt and direct linkage that progress in other areas depended on progress on Kashmir. It was the Indian side which gave grounds to such a linkage by insisting on a parallel working group on crossborder terrorism. The Indian side blushed silly whenever asked to cite any other issue as the core issue. In fact, the very peace process essentially means peace in Kashmir. Even if one has the larger dimension of war – and confidence building measures on nuclear and other issues – it should be kept in mind that Kashmir will be the main bone of contention centering on which the two countries will inexorably hurtle towards war if the current tide is not stemmed.

Pakistan has been posing this question of “core issue” only from the point of view of facilitating the dialogue. Now, if India wanted to make use of any concession on this as a bargaining lever, it clearly had its limits. It cannot hope to address and make much progress on crossborder terrorism by a mere shift in the negotiating stance.

Its recognition of centrality of Kashmir and Pakistan’s acknowledgement of crossborder terrorism cannot be put on par. It would be foolish diplomacy – or deliberate tactic for stonewalling – to try to get Pakistan formally accept that it is exporting terrorism across the border. Couldn’t cross-border terrorism be discussed as part of the Kashmir issue? Firstly, Pakistan cannot formally recognise it as ‘terrorism’ – for fear of both internal and international backlash – and, secondly, as ‘crossborder’. Pakistan has always maintained that J&K is a disputed area, differentiated between LoC and international border, and claimed that militants are jehadis and fighters for self-determination. However, even Musharraf maintains that progress on Kashmir will indirectly contribute to an improvement in the ground situation. According to reports, the Pakistani delegation at Agra was not averse to making a general mention of terrorism and violence in Kashmir. But the Indian side was asking for the impossible. It would be a test of diplomacy for New Delhi to extract concessions on Pak support to militants as part of overall improvement in bilateral relations, if only it is serious about it. Blunt refusal to make even a minimum shift from its stated positions is no way to reach a bilateral accord.

More than that, India’s own efforts for normalisation of the situation in Kashmir by continuing with the ceasefire and talking all the political forces there including Hurriyat by creating an atmosphere of confidence would go a long way in minimising Pakistan’s capability to play the ‘Kashmir card’.

The Indian intransigence

THE INDIAN side has been vitiating the atmosphere right from the beginning. There was some indication regarding their gameplan right from the beginning, when they always evaded a straight answer to the question whether there would be a joint declaration at the end of the summit.

India tried to outdo Pakistan in pre-summit posturing, reiterating its fundamental positions. Jaswant Singh outlined a tough negotiating position on Jammu and Kashmir on July 12, just two days before the summit, insisting that it was an integral part of India, and rejected ideas on self-determination for Kashmir and third party mediation.

Further, whatever diplomatic lead Vajpayee had taken by sending out the invitation to Musharraf was frittered away when India managed to manoeuvre itself back to the wall by making a silly fuss over Pakistan High Commission’s invitation to Hurriyat leaders to meet Musharraf over tea and by announcing unilateral measures to de-center Kashmir, and desperately trying to assert, without valid arguments, that Kashmir is not the central issue. Ironically, the unilateral measures in other areas, though important, became suspect in the eyes of Pakistanis as deflective attempts and served only to highlight the diplomatic centrality of the Kashmir issue.

The storm over a cup of tea was indeed ridiculous. India portrayed General Musharraf’s decision to meet Hurriyat leaders over tea at Pakistan High Commission as an unfriendly act, ungrateful gesture, and as misusing the generosity of the host. It created an impression of gloom, as if that had already cast a shadow over the summit, in order to manipulate public opinion and to put the onus of any failure on Pakistan. The Indian media too fully obliged this official manoeuvre. What they failed to highlight was that Pakistan had discouraged Hurriyat’s proposal for parallel talks, which was proposed by the latter to both India and Pakistan, and the tea and courtesy was extended to Hurriyat leaders only as a substitute. The mindset of refusing to acknowledge J&K as a disputed territory was reflected in the portrayal that Musharraf was meddling in India’s internal affairs. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that India had earlier okayed Hurriyat leaders’ visit to Islamabad, though dragging its feet over issuing visas to all the members of the Hurriyat apex body in a clumsy attempt to create rift among them.

The unilateral confidence building measures only served to erode whatever confidence Pakistan had on Indian intentions. Ironically, they only served to underline the centrality of Kashmir because of the cold response they met with from Pakistan.

Even assuming India’s charge, that the General was trying to play to the galleries back at home on Kashmir, to be true, this could also be interpreted in a positive sense that he was trying to prepare public opinion and was adjusting with popular sentiments to find acceptability at home for an accommodation with India on other issues. But the way the Vajpayee government tackled public opinion in India showed that they wanted to prepare it for an acceptance of failure.

The post-summit manoeuvres by India showed that they were not keen on salvaging whatever positive emerged out of the collapsed summit. In order to bury the contentious 9-point draft forever, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson claimed that since Agra was a failure Simla and Lahore would be the basis for future negotiations. That would amount to one step forward and two steps back. While it constantly accuses Pakistan of negating Simla and Lahore, India is guilty of negating Agra, about which they themselves claimed that “considerable grounds were covered” and “much progress was made” etc.

The Indian intransigence found full backing from the chauvinist upsurge in the media. The leading pro-saffron newsmagazine devoted an entire issue on the eve of the summit for a story describing Pakistan as a “Failed Nation”. The Shiv Sena hoodlums announced “purification” of Rajghat and Taj because of Musharraf’s visit. The BJP president triumphantly clarified that, “If Pakistan had not taken the Kargil route, perhaps the Lahore-Agra ride could have been fruitful”, denying, thereby, the very spirit behind the invitation to Musharraf by Vajpayee. Sangh Parivar voices have now started saying that Vajpayee should not go to Pakistan.

What next?

THE GAINS for peace flowing from the abortive summit are as yet brittle. The harsh fact that the gun salute to President Musharraf soon found its echo as shelling across the LoC at Kargil only confirmed this. Anyone with a sense of history could see that the two nations were steadily heading towards war. That both are nuclear powers adds a frightful dimension to it. There was an urgent need to stem and reverse the inexorable logic of this tide.

New Delhi’s unilateral confidence building measures on the summit eve raised only doubts about its intention. If it is really serious then it should follow them up now with a fresh package of CBMs, especially relating to Kashmir. Instead of indulging in jingoistic slanging match on who scuttled the summit, the Indian government should take some concrete steps. The ceasefire should be resumed, deployment of security forces should be scaled down and political prisoners freed and talks should commence with the organisations in Kashmir. New Delhi would also do well to guard against any possible US intervention in the post-summit process. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for greater cohesion between the two parts of Kashmir and both Pakistan and India would have to provide some special guarantee to Kashmir. Turning Kashmir into its opposite, i.e. into a buffer zone of peace, can be the only real answer.

The rightwing media in India never fails to refer to Pakistan as a “failed state”, a “lost nation” and so on. In whatever respects and to whatever extent it may be true, India’s hostility alone may provide Pakistan’s shaky establishment the necessary lease of life and a vicarious sense of purpose and direction. Moreover, it is often said that Pakistan’s remains a case of split identity between South Asia and West Asia. It is eminently in India’s interest to promote the South Asian identity of Pakistan through a serious bid for peace and friendship. After all, South Asia, especially the subcontinent, has its organic historical linkages with every action in one corner producing an equal reaction in another corner. If Pakistan fails, can India remain secure? The multinational mosaic or the federal and social fabric of India is already under severe stress due to the impact of gloablisation. Should Pakistan undergo Talibanisation which is bound to overflow into India to its further detriment?

Peace in Kashmir is needed to end the bloodshed. Peace between the two countries is needed to prevent a catastrophe. Peace is the precondition for development of both. If anything, the summit has amply confirmed that the popular mood is for peace. Some pragmatic commentators have opined that the unique combination of saffron fascists and dictatorial generals as interlocutors enhances the chances for peace. This is a doubtful proposition. Rather, durable peace can be achieved only through a relentless struggle by the people of these countries against such forces. The struggle for democracy in both countries, is thus, inseparably linked with the struggle for peace. On an immediate practical plane, sustained pressure needs to be mounted on both the governments to pick up the strands of peace from Agra and make further progress on the agenda agreed upon. Every peace-loving person in the subcontinent needs to be vigilant against the forces on both sides, who wouldn’t rest with just scuttling the Agra summit, but would do everything to thwart further progress.